Moral heroes are the warriors of the Spirit. We must venerate them and raise them to the heights worthy of their holy transports. They are the models after which we should fashion our lives, they are the exemplars of conduct. Their thoughts are lofty, inseparable from the nobility of their will, and their hearts burn to join their Savior, the Redeemer of all mankind. In thought, feeling and life they resemble their Lord Jesus Christ. They offered themselves in sacrifice for the sins of the Russian people without a murmur, meekly, like innocent lambs. In them all Christ-God became manifest. Their martyrdom is described in a two-volume work of Archpriest Father Mikhail Polsky “The New Martyrs of Russia”.
At the beginning of our times of trouble, during the persecution of the Church, one of these martyrs foresaw the coming of terrible times and spoke thus to his congregation: “I am tired … I have grown weak... Help me, O Lord! Weep, O native land! Weep and sob, O Mother Russia... Enemies at home and abroad have broken you up am are tearing you apart: You are humiliated, disgraced, insulted, robbed... The sanctity of your public life, law and order are rudely trampled; the freedom of your speech is pitilessly crushed; plucked are even the last petals of your young and fragrant freedom... Tyranny has enveloped Russia in its dark shadow. But the salvation of our country is in the hands of the Almighty and of our holy Church—the builder and the architect of our Russian land, its greatness, and its power... Now our Mother Church is bereft of all human rights and has become a persecuted slave. The Orthodox Churches under Turkish oppression have never, not in the past or now, known this. The Christians under the cruel persecution of heathen Roman emperors were better off than we are. Roman emperors regarded Christian burial places as sacred and left them alone, and in them Christians could pray peacefully. But you should rejoice that the time of martyrdom in the name of Christ the Savior is at hand. Hear me, you servants of Antichrist… We shall celebrate the Divine Service in our homes, even in our cellars. If you take away our corporals, with our Bishops’ blessing, we shall celebrate the Liturgy without them. If you take away by force our sacred vessels, in our household dishes we shall prepare the awesome sacrifice of the Body and the Blood of our Lord. Without it we cannot live. It is our life; without it our life is death. The Holy Eucharist gives us joy, unearthly ecstasy, and the strength to live, to fight and to bear suffering bravely and unflinchingly. We do not fear persecution or torture. We want them, we yearn for them and for their blood-stained beauty. We shall not tremble before your tribunals and executioners. Our maimed bodies will like needles pierce your conscience (should you be endowed with such) and will prepare the way to the victory of light over unenlightened darkness, of Christianity over new heathendom. The power of Christianity, the power of Christ the Savior is almighty. And Antichrist will be consumed, by the power of the spirit of His mouth (2 Thess. 2:8).”
So daringly and triumphantly rang the words of the new martyrs at the dawn of new and cruelest persecutions by the servants of Antichrist in a Russia already falling over the precipice. The Church was created by God Himself. Its head is invincible Christ-God.
Under Diocletian, once on Easter Sunday, 17,000 Christians were killed near their church. Executioners fell in exhaustion, and the steel of their swords were blunted. But Christianity stood firm. And the holy Church will stand firm while the names of her godless persecutors will go down in history bearing the brand of anathema.
Parish Life, February 2021
Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Washington, DC